Review: Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF): ‘Everything Is Wonderful’

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The Amish with their horse and buggy, 19th century culture; their simple, old world uniforms and habits; their infamous Rumspringa where the teenage Amish is given the opportunity to choose between the church and the outside “English” world; and, after the West Nickel Mines school massacre, the Amish’s capacity to forgive.

The Cast. Photo by Seth Freeman.

Chelsea Marcantel’s Everything is Wonderful takes us into the heart of Amish country: its family dynamics, its romantic relations, and its faith–in the power of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Everything is Wonderful is a strong testament to humanity’s ability to heal.

Director Ed Herendeen does a great job keeping the multiple plot lines engaging.

At the center of the drama is the drunken automobile accident that killed two Amish brothers.

Eric, the man responsible for the death of the two young men, is played humbly by Jason Babinsky. He comes to the Amish family to apologize for the killing of their young adult sons. A recovering drunk and 21st-century marketer, Eric wants more than forgiveness; he wants redemption.

Lucky Gretzinger and Jessica Savage. Photo by Seth Freeman.

The father, Jacob, a wonderfully austere Paul Deboy, and the mother, Esther, a tightly restrained Hollis McCarthy, invite him into their home.

Only their youngest daughter, Ruth, remains on the farm. She is played with divine joy by Lexi Lapp.

In short order, Eric moves into the barn where he will spend the next few weeks working his penance, much like Hercules did with his labors after murdering his wife and children.

The rhythms of work and speech, as well as the open-air setting of this production, work wonders on the audience, giving us a feel for this so foreign contemporary America, with the work of Sound Designer Miles Polaski contributing greatly to the flow.

Set Designer David M. Barber and Lighting Designer D.M. Woods have created the barn-like enclosure that frames all the locations. The real dirt only adds to the authenticity of the completely theatrical scenography.

Lexi Lapp and Jason Babinsky. Photo by Seth Freeman.

Therese Bruck’s costumes are Amish and, hence, without individualized personality; yet, she has found a way to highlight each character’s enclosed uniqueness.

This is particularly true of the last two characters introduced to the audience: Abram and Miri.

Abram, played with intoxicating charm by Lucky Gretzinger, is the Amish Adonis so to speak, who understands a little too vainly his place and future in Amish society.

His counterpart and ex-bride-to-be is Miri, Jacob and Esther’s oldest daughter. Played by the equally charismatic Jessica Savage, Miri is also a little-too-feisty-to-be-Amish-for-long.

Abram and Miri’s explosive relationship provides the current action with all the verve necessary to leave the audience in rapt attention.

Everything is Wonderful is challenging theatrical terrain that few plays tackle successfully. Ms. Marcantel does so, however, with beauty and grace, and CATF’s production is a standout.

Running Time: 2 hours, with one intermission.

Everything Is Wonderful and The Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) continue through July 30, 2017. Tickets to CATF and for Wild Horses can be purchased through the Theater Festival Box Office, by calling (800) 999-CATF (2283), or by purchasing them online.

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Robert Michael Oliver
Poet, Performer, Theatre Artist, Playwright, Educator, Writer--Robert Michael Oliver, Ph.D., has been involved in the DC arts scene since the 1980s, when he co-founded The Sanctuary Theatre in the old sanctuary of Calvary United Methodist Church. Since those fierce days in Columbia Heights, he has earned his doctorate in theatre from University of Maryland, raised two wonderful children, and seen more theatre as a reviewer over the last two years than he saw in the previous thirty. He now co-directs, along with his wife Elizabeth Bruce, the Sanctuary's Performing Knowledge Project, which organizes a host of writing and performance workshops, plus Mementos: Poetry and Performance for Seniors, a yearly literature-in-performance Fringe Festival show, as well as Performetry--a monthly poetry and prose performance event at DC's community arts & culture center BloomBars.